ISLAMABAD: Captured Indian Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman was handed back to India on Friday, two days after he was captured by the Pakistan army and his jet downed, the Pakistani foreign office said, in a gesture seen as the first step towards dialling down the worst standoff between the two countries in decades.
“Wing Commander Abhinandan, Indian POW [prisoner of war], returned to India today, as committed by PM [Prime Minister Imran] khan in his address to joint sitting of parliament, yesterday,” foreign office spokesman Dr. Mohammad Faisal said in a Twitter post.
On Tuesday, Pakistan said Indian jets had violated the Line of Control (LoC) border which splits the disputed Kashmir valley into two parts, one administered by Pakistan, the other by India. India said it hit a militant training camp inside Pakistan on Tuesday morning but Pakistan said Indian jets were barely in its airspace for a few minutes before being chased away by Pakistani warplanes without any damage to lives or infrastructure.
The next day, Pakistan said it had carried out airstrikes on six targets across its border with India, shot down two Indian warplanes and arrested an enemy pilot, raising the possibility of further escalation.
But during a joint session of parliament on Thursday evening, Prime Minister Imran Khan said the captured pilot would be handed back to India the next day as a “gesture of peace.”
Pakistani TV channels showed Varthaman walking across the border at Wagah around 9p.m. on Friday night, accompanied by Pakistani paramilitary rangers. He was straight-backed and somber-faced, and wearing a crisp white shirt, a navy blazer and grey pants. As he crossed over into India, an Indian officer shook his hand and another walked him onto Indian soil as the iron gates of the border gate slammed shut.
Varthaman has become the face of latest tensions between India and Pakistan. The arch-rivals have fought three wars since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Two of them were over the disputed Kashmir region on their border.